Walk into any hardware store and the issue is obvious: Shelves and shelves are lined with men’s pants, boots, gloves, and jackets. There might even be a collection of “unisex” gear, but ultimately those products are based on men’s sizing. If you’re a woman in the industry, the options are not looking good.
In the past, you may have had to settle for men’s pants with a belt at the waist and the legs hemmed, men’s “small” gloves that don’t fit your palm correctly, or women’s athletic gear that wears out after a few rigorous days on the jobsite.
But settle no more. Finally, a growing number of manufacturers, both large and small, are stepping up to fill the gap that has existed for far too long.
One major reason why tradeswomen have been underserved for years stems from the fact that they are underrepresented in the field. According to the National Association of Homebuilders, while women make up 47 percent of the labor market as a whole, they only make up about 9 percent of the construction industry. Even more dismaying is the fact that women only make up 3 percent of the group that the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls “natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations,” i.e. the largest category of workers actually out in the field.
In the midst of an acute skilled labor shortage, women represent a huge untapped opportunity for increasing the construction labor force. But a lack of exposure, respect, and resources may be keeping them out, says Amy James Neel, training director at Oregon Tradeswomen, an education and mentorship program for women in the trades.
“I get women calling me, and it’s not that they don’t love the work,” Neel said, speaking last September at the Women in Residential Construction conference in Scottsdale, Ariz. “They love the work, they can do the work, they enjoy all aspects of it, except for the lack of respectful workplaces.”
A big part of drawing women to the trades, and keeping them there, is making sure they have the right gear to do the job, says Stacey Gose, founder and CEO of Tougher, a workwear brand for women. As a woman in the trades, she says, “you start 50 yards back from the rest, and then have to overcome that and become more skilled despite all of the obstacles in your way,” including jobsite discrimination and high expectations. Misfitting gear can add to those obstacles, as well as enforce the harmful stereotype that women don’t belong in the trades.
“When you're always pushing and pulling and fighting against your own clothes while you're working, and then you go into the farm and ranch store and see that men have thousands of options to choose from, and you look over and see one little shelf for you, what that says is that you're expendable and not worth paying attention to,” Gose says. As a result, she founded Tougher, which currently makes women’s work pants and gloves, in hopes of combatting this obstacle.
Gose says that women’s workwear has long been plagued by a “shrink and pink” mentality, in which manufacturers take men’s apparel designs and make them smaller and prettier to market them to women. But basing women’s clothing on men’s sizes is exactly the problem, says Kate Day, co-founder of Dovetail Workwear.
“When your pants aren’t fitted properly for a woman’s hips and waist, you’re going to get issues like ‘plumber’s crack’ every time you bend over,” she says.
Day also notes that women’s gear often lacks durability. “Typically, women’s workwear comes in thin, cheap fabrics that lack both fit and durability. These approaches reinforce outdated stereotypes that women don’t work as hard as men and, thus, don’t need apparel that supports their productivity and well-being.”
In addition to comfort, properly fitting gear for women is also about jobsite safety, especially in daily work environments where hands and limbs need protection from the elements and loose fabric can get snagged on rough surfaces.
“When you get something that's built for [women’s] hands, and it's soft and durable, you also want to wear your gloves more and protect your hands,” says Gose, referencing Tougher’s work glove design.
In addition to small, women-run business such as Dovetail and Tougher, some larger manufacturers have been wising up to the need for quality women’s workwear. Hiking boot manufacturer Merrell has been making women’s work boots since they started their work line in 2017 and plans to launch a women-specific work boot franchise in 2020, according to Tom Stolz, director of sales for Merrell Work. Milwaukee Tool offers heated jackets and vests for women made from the same materials as their men’s jackets.
Though the women’s workwear industry has a long way to go until it equals the breadth and depth of men’s workwear, recent pushes by women in the industry have lead to a number of great options for tough, well-fitting gear for women.
We found 11 manufacturers who are catering to the tradeswomen.
Founded by two landscapers and their former client, a veteran of the apparel industry, Dovetail grew out of a frustration with a lack of options for women’s work pants. The company now makes a variety of work pants, overalls, shirts, gloves, and accessories. All work pants come with at least 10 pockets, and fabrics are field- and abrasion-tested. Dovetail’s Britt Utility pant is pictured.
Tougher founder Stacey Gose comes from a family of farmers, and founded the company after realizing that she and her female family members struggled to find appropriate workwear. The company offers work pants and gloves. Gloves are made from soft but durable deerskin leather, are machine-washable, and are based on women’s real hand sizes. Work pants are made from a custom fabric that is durable but more lightweight than duck cotton. Both are shown here. The company plans to expand the line with work shorts for the summer.
Founded by a woman in the mining industry, Covergalls makes coveralls and bibs specifically for women on the jobsite, with a tailored fit and a large rear trap door for an easier bathroom break. Both come in a variety of fabrics and colors, including high-vis and flame resistant options. Jackets, pants, shirts, and accessories are also available.
Merrell offers a number of work shoe options for women, including the Moab Vertex Mid Waterproof Comp Toe Work Boot, shown. A redesign of Merrell’s popular hiking boot, the Moab work boot features a waterproof upper, a rubber toe cap, a breathable and comfortable foot base, and a slip-resistant bottom.
5. P&F Workwear
This woman-founded Canadian brand offers a full range of work boots, clothing, and accessories, including safety glasses, gloves, and knee pads. P&F’s most popular product is the S558 safety boot, which has a high ankle and a steel toe for jobsite protection and a zipper for easy closure. Boots are available in six colors. The company’s flannel shirt, work gloves, and S558 boots are shown.
This workwear manufacturer offers a number of women’s options, including the Women's Relaxed Fit Straight Leg Bib Overalls, shown. Available in denim or duck cotton and four colors, the durable bibs feature several pockets and a hammer loop.
The M12 Heated Axis collection of jackets and vests are powered by the same rechargeable RedLithium batteries used to power Milwaukee’s cordless tools. The pieces are made from lightweight Axis Ripstop Polyester, which protect the wearer from wind and water. Both the jackets and vets can be used as an outer shell or a mid-layer. Jackets distribute heat to the chest, back, and shoulders and vests heat the chest and back. Each Axis clothing piece ships with an M12 Compact Charger and Portable Power Source for charging via a micro-USB.
Crafted in Carhartt is a blog and Instagram account launched by Carhartt to share stories of women in the trades. It also corresponds to a collection of the company’s workwear for women, including jackets, pants, boots, and accessories. The Sandstone mock-neck vest with sherpa lining is shown.
Red Ants Pants is both a woman-founded workwear brand and a nonprofit foundation supporting women’s leadership, working family farms and ranches, and rural communities. The company offers work pants, shorts, tees, outer layers, and accessories for women in the trades. The work pants are made from 12 oz. cotton canvas duck and are reinforced on the front panel and seat. They also have a gusseted crotch and a high back rise for comfort. The three side pockets are designed to fit a pencil, 3×5 notebook, and knife. Straight and curvy cuts are available.
This woman-founded workwear brand grew out of a stark need for Personal Protective Equipment designed for women. The company offers a number of gloves, high-vis clothing, and even a protective full-coverage sports-style bra. The cowhide leather gloves are soft and feature a second layer over the palm and a strap for tightening around the wrist. The SeeHerWork website also offers a glove sizing chart for women’s hands.
11. Eve Workwear
Eve is an Australian workwear brand founded by two women from an all-female renovation company. The company offers a variety of work pants and shirts, as well as painters’ whites and accessories. Eve’s 2678 cotton pants (shown) features a rear buckle, several pockets in front and back, and triple stitching for strength. They are also available in denim as well as four other colors.